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Steinmeier appeals to Russia, Ukraine ahead of Berlin summit

Germany's foreign minister has urged Russia and Ukraine to move forward with the terms of the Minsk ceasefire, ahead of a key meeting in Berlin. He rejected opposition calls to reinstate Russia in what's now the G7.

"We expect both Moscow and Kyiv to seize the central issue of the implementation of the next phase of Minsk," Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Monday's edition of German daily Die Welt.

This phase foresees "the preparation of local elections in the areas occupied by the separatists, but also humanitarian aid access and reconstruction in eastern Ukraine," Steinmeier said.

Ukraine Krise Gipfelteilnehmer in Minsk

February's Minsk deal has calmed, but by no means stopped, the conflict in Ukraine

The Social Democrat will host his counterparts from France, Russia and Ukraine in Berlin on Monday evening for talks on the continued implementation of the Minsk Accord - a ceasefire which has largely halted violence in eastern Ukraine, despite repeated breaches.

Steinmeier lauded the progress that had been made, citing the "well-advanced withdrawal of heavy weapons." He said that observers on the ground in eastern Ukraine, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), were making good progress, "but it is not enough."

Earlier in the week, the OSCE demanded that both pro-Russian separatists and the regular Ukrainian army stop intimidating or restricting the movements of its 400 monitors.

After Crimea: 'We could not act as if nothing had happened'

Steinmeier also responded to a contentious appeal from Germany's far-left party, Die Linke, in his interview with Die Welt, rejecting calls to reinstate Russia into the G7 group of industrialized nations. From 1998 through March 2014, the G8 included Russia until the group's newest member was ejected following the annexation of Crimea.

Niederlande G7-Treffen Krisengipfel in Den Haag Gruppenbild

The G8 shrank back to seven last year after the annexation of Crimea

The Left party's leader, Gregor Gysi, had told the dpa news agency that Germany - current holders of the G7's rotating presidency - should invite Russia back for this summer's summit in Elmau, southern Bavaria, near the Austrian border.

"As no crises can get solved without Russia, of course, the G7 should again be made into a G8," Gysi had said. "Isolating Russia achieves nothing, it only hurts us."

Steinmeier rejected this assertion but indicated a desire to restore more positive ties to Moscow: "It is not in our interests to isolate Russia in the long term," he said. "But after the annexation of Crimea, contravening international law, we could not simply act as if nothing had happened and carry on with business as usual."

Besides Germany, the US, UK, France, Italy, Japan and Canada are also members of the G7. After Monday's foreign minister's meeting in Berlin, the G7's foreign ministers will discuss the developments at a mini-summit in Lübeck northern Germany.

Compared to key NATO members like the US and UK, Germany has been milder in its criticism of Russia since the conflict in Ukraine began, and Steinmeier did offer hope that Russia could eventually return to the G7, under key conditions.

"The route back to a G8 goes via respect for the unity of Ukraine and the implementation of Russia's obligations as part of the Minsk Accord," Steinmeier told die Welt.

msh/jil (AFP, dpa)